Life is constantly changing, but one thing stays the same. Every day at 12pm, the Signal Hill noon gun fires, giving Capetonians an aural indication of the time.

The green cannons that stand proud on Signal Hill today were designed by Captain Thomas Blomefield and crafted by London’s Walker and Company in 1794. They arrived in the Cape in 1795 during the British occupation.

 

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The firing of the noon gun has been a constantly evolving tradition over the last few centuries. In the late 1700s, many ships took shelter from the Cape of Storms’ turbulent weather in Table Bay. However, this would cause ships to lose track of time because they did not have accurate time keeping methods back then.

This is when the idea to fire a gun every day at noon began. In the early 1800s, officials decided to create a time signal for ships in Table Bay to set their chronometer. They used a brass bell-mouthed pistol to achieve this, which was fired from the Imhoff Battery in front of the Cape Town Castle for the first time in 1806.

The Imhoff Battery gun was relocated to Signal Hill in 1903, the same year Standard Time was introduced to South Africa.

Originally, the gun was fired according to a flare set off from the South African Astronomical Observatory at noon sharp.  However, this process became unreliable over time. Today, the gun is fired following an electronic signal from the Observatory, just a few milliseconds before noon. This signal creates a burst of energy, which travels across telephone lines and ignites the cannon.

Since then, the gun has become a mainstay in Cape Town culture, firing every day at noon save for Sundays and public holidays. The gun now serves no other purpose than to uphold our proud tradition. While there are two guns on the hill, only one is fired and the other acts as a backup should the first one fail.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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